Moses lives; Moses dies; but God’s story continues – and we are all invited to participate. (Listen.)
It’s the end of the road: Moses is dead. So let us remember him. He was born into slavery, slated for genocide, yet saved by brave midwives, his sister, and Pharaoh’s own daughter. He grew up to be nothing much, a shepherd and a fugitive, when God called him into service. And despite his reluctance, his anxiety, and his stutter, God used Moses to set the people free.
Through plagues, signs and other wonders, Moses displayed God’s awesome power and persuaded Pharaoh let the people go. Then he led them out of Egypt and into forty years in the wilderness. He led them through hunger and thirst; he led them through bitter quarrels; he led them through idolatry, disaster, and the giving of the law. And through it all Moses coaxed and cajoled, bossed and bullied, pestered and pleaded with both God and people to stay in covenant relationship. Finally, this stumbling grumbling people and their cantankerous leader drew within cooee of the Promised Land.
So, did Moses enter this land to great blasts of the trumpet, riding on an elephant? Did he gallop down on a white stallion, and seat himself on a jewelled throne? Did he simply stroll down the mountain into that land of milk and honey, and there take his rest?
No, he did not. The story tells us that ‘Moses went up from the plains of Moab to Mount Nebo … and the Lord showed him the whole land … And the Lord said to him, “This is the land of which I swore to Abraham, to Isaac, and to Jacob, saying, ‘I will give it to your descendants’; I have let you see it with your eyes, but you shall not cross over there.” Then Moses, the servant of the Lord, died there in the land of Moab, at the Lord’s command; and he buried him.’
There it was, laid out before him. But Moses, the greatest prophet of them all, the performer of unequalled deeds of power, never got there. He led his people so far, but then his story ended.
Or did it? In fact, like all good stories, like all good lives, Moses’s story continues. None of us are Moses. But as the people of God, we are still walking through the wilderness; we are still heading towards the Promised Land of justice, mercy and shalom; and so here we are, telling the story again, and letting it lead us into freedom.
In other words, we are players in a very long story. This story was being written in the time of Moses, when people in slavery were set free. It was being written in the time of Thomas Helwys and John Smyth, early Baptists who gave their lives to the cause of religious freedom. It was being written in the time of Martin Luther King Jr. and Rosa Parks and all who participated in the Civil Rights movement. And it is being written now, in our time, and in our lives, in ways both ancient and new.
This great story of human liberation continues to unfold: but the next chapter has not yet been written. Because the next chapter is shaped by how people act in this chapter, today; and peoples’ actions are shaped by the stories they tell each other, and the stories they tell themselves.
At the end of his life, Moses blesses the people. He reminds them of their past, and he points to their future, and he recalls them, once again, to their relationship with God: because once he’s gone, they’re going to need to remember this story for themselves. The story where people born into crushing circumstances are set free, and are led and taught and fed and loved and forgiven in the wilderness, encountering God and becoming a people and glimpsing the Promised Land.
So Moses lives; Moses participates in, shapes, and hands down the story; then Moses dies, because, as Psalm 90 reminds us, all people are dust. From dust we are made: to dust we will return. We are mortal, and our days are numbered. But in this brief span between dust and dust, we are the stewards of our lives. We can choose a living death; we can choose abundant life; we can choose the work to which we set our hands. And what we choose will depend on which story we tell, which story we trust: empire or exodus; Pharaoh or Moses; death or life.
Of course, as people who seek relationship with the Living God, we are called to choose exodus. We are called to choose Moses; we are called to choose life; and we are called to become part of God’s great story and let it shape our life and work.
Thinking about this work, this life, this story, then, I ask you: Is there some work of human liberation that you, or we, are being asked to walk towards now? Is there a prompting in your heart that needs attention? Perhaps in your inner world, or with your family or a former friend; perhaps in your workplace or the wider community; perhaps here at Sanctuary: What work of liberation are you, or we, being called to participate in? Where have you glimpsed the Promised Land of justice, mercy and shalom? And what is the next step towards it?
Like the greatest prophet, Moses, you live; you participate in, shape, and hand down the story; you die; but the story continues. And in the words of a modern prophet, Mary Oliver, you have been given ‘one wild and precious life’; one opportunity to play your part in a sly and subversive story which undermines empires, heals cultures, and transforms lives. How, then, will you live? And what is your next step? Ω
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